Susan Singer ssinger at CARLETON.EDU
Tue Feb 25 17:45:28 EST 1997

In addition Bill Purves suggestions for further readings, I would recommend
a new book by Elaine Seymour and Nancy Hewitt - Talking about Leaving:  Why
Undergraduates Leave the Sciences, Westview Press, 1997 (Publisher's phone
number is 800-386-5656.  This book is based on interviews with hundreds of
students and is a thought provoking analysis of our current situation.  It
is a wonderful addition to Sheila Tobias' work.
Susan Singer

>At 03:31 PM 2/22/97 -0800, David Robinson wrote:
>>If the majority of biology majors are not really committed to the hard
>>work and inquisitiveness that it takes to be a biologist are we
>>really doing them any great favors by being "namby/pamby" with them the
>>first semester? I'm not saying that we should purposely make the first
>>semester difficult just to "screen out" the students who are really
>>committed from the ones who are just attracted by the salary and prestige
>>of being surgeons. But I do wonder if starting out with the more
>>challenging concepts of molecules, cells, metabolism, and genetics
>>is a better way to let students know if they "have what it takes to get
>>into medical school" right from the start, rather than encouraging their
>>delusions for a couple semesters more. Isn't this codependence?
>>Alternatively, though, maybe we should be more concerned with biology's
>>generally lousy retention rates by making the courses more relevant and
>>interesting. Does biology always have to have the worse retention of all
>>the undergraduate disciplines?
>Interesting thoughts about a phenomenon we've probably all thought about!
>Two comments to the group:
>1. If you're not familiar with Sheila Tobias's little book "They're Not
>Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier," I commend it to
>your attention.  The book is published by Research Corporation (1990).
>If one buys into Tobias's thesis (as do I), one will incline to some
>version of David's "alternative" suggestion.
>2. There are campus-political reasons, personal-satisfaction reasons,
>and others to be concerned about losses of majors.  But we might
>also think about the phenomenon of students arriving in droves,
>thinking (often with poor reason) that they want to become physicians.
>Do we want to retain them all as physicians? as bio or botany majors?
>What good reasons are there for any student to major in biology?  Do
>our programs serve their real needs?  If somebody does a lousy job
>in an introductory course, does this mean that the person has no
>future in biology? or in college?  If somebody finds a course "hostile,"
>is it the student's fault?  If somebody does a GREAT job in a biology
>curriculum, should we feel bad if she decides to go off and do
>something else?
>William K. Purves              phone: 909.626.4859
>2817 N. Mountain Avenue   voice mail: 909.621.8021
>Claremont, CA 91711-1550         fax: 909.626.7030
>USA                    e-mail: Bill_Purves at

Susan Singer                                    Phone:  507-646-4391
Department of Biology                           Fax:    507-646-5757
Carleton College                                E-mail: ssinger at
Northfield, MN 55057

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